SOUTHINGTON — The leveling system put in place at the high school two years ago has resulted in students performing better and challenging themselves more, Principal Martin Semmel said. At last week’s Board of Education meeting, Semmel presented data on the leveling system.
“The success of our leveling program is because of all hard work of our teachers,” Semmel said. “They have been working incredibly hard to make sure that they’re developing engaging, rigorous lessons for all levels. It takes an awful lot of time and teamwork.”
The three levels are: honors, AP, UConn ECE; competitive college prep; and college prep. Three years ago, there were four levels, but when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges came to perform an accreditation review, they suggested a change. In May of 2010, when the review was complete, the association recommended the high school revise its leveling practices, and a committee was formed to study options.
“That was the major impact for the change,” Semmel said. “NEASC (was) saying they were not seeing engaging rigorous course work. When we redefined and redesigned our levels, our belief is that every level has engaging and rigorous coursework at the level the kids are ready for.”
According to the official definition of the levels, the honors course “mirrors” college classes and goes beyond the average high school curriculum. Competitive college prep has coursework that is challenging and “is geared toward the mastery of state and national standard” and prepares students for college courses. College prep focuses on “guided practice” and has engaging coursework to help “provide students with a strong foundation for college level learning.”
Terri Carmody, vice chairwoman of the school board, was a member of the committee that worked to redesign the leveling system.
“What we have done is raised the level of expectations for all students,” Carmody said. “According to the report Dr. Semmel has given, it’s been quite successful. That is just wonderful for me to see that we are asking students to stretch a little and they’re doing it.”
For freshmen from 2011 until 2012, which was the last year four levels were implemented, 129 honors classes were taken. From 2012 to 2013, the first year of the new leveling system, that number jumped to 468.
“What we’re doing is trying to get kids ahead and make students more prepared, whether they’re going to college or (into) a career,” said Brian Goralski, school board chairman. “It seems like having them have the ability to take a higher level in different areas, they can challenge themselves with their strengths.”
After surveying teachers about the effectiveness of the levels with their classes, Semmel said many have seen students more engaged with their coursework and less discipline and behavioral issues at the college prep level.
“College doesn’t mean the same thing for every student,” Semmel said. “People need to make a choice about college and what to do after high school on a very individual basis. We provide every student in this building college and career prep so that they’re ready after they leave the high school.”